Senior Conservatives have denied claims David Cameron’s support for gay marriage cost them first or second place in the Eastleigh by-election.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage placed the blame for the Tories dismal third place finish on traditional Conservative voters abandoning the party, despite the fact Cameron’s candidate was opposed to same-sex marriage.
Farage said: "I met traditional Tory voters who said ‘well we use to talk about free markets and free trade … now we talk about global warming and gay marriage’."
By running Maria Hutchings, who favours withdrawal from the EU and is against same-sex marriage, as its candidate, the Tories tried to neutralise the issue. But it did not work.
Bob Woollard, chairman of Conservative Grassroots, a group set up by former and current chairmen of Tory associations who opposed the gay marriage Bill, said Hutchings was "a true grassroots candidate".
"However voters tend to pay more attention to the direction of the national party and the current direction is clearly not one that connects with Conservative voters,” he said.
"The Conservative Party urgently needs to return to core Conservative values if we are to stand any chance of winning an outright majority in 2015."
But senior Tories have denied the claim the coalition’s gay marriage Bill cost them the seat. Education secretary Michael Gove said there was not “a single person who mentioned gay marriage” to him on the Eastleigh doorstep. "It was not an issue."
And business minister Michael Fallon, a former deputy chairman of the party who is often sent to tour TV studios to defend the party leadership, said the result “wasn’t anything to do with gay marriage”.
He said: "Gay marriage was not a big issue in the by-election in Eastleigh."
David Cameron has insisted the result will not force him to change course and move to the right in the wake of the defeat.
"I don't think we should tack this way, tack that way,” he said. "What we have got to do is deliver for people who work hard, who want to get on, and deliver on the agenda that they care about and I care about.